Archive for October 2009
According to Russian media (in Russian), Ministry of Home Affairs (whose main agency is police) held tactical maneuvers in Moscow suburbs today. During these maneuvers, SWAT troops were trained to disperse, according to the script, “a group of senior citizens that protested social injustice and blocked a federal highway.” In order to do this, the whole arsenal was used by the police: water cannons, shock grenades, and tear gas. Troops blocked and arrested some of the “senior citizens.”
Minister Rashid Nurgaliev was watching the maneuvers and was apparently satisfied. A lot of civilian journalists couldn’t share his optimism. Even the reports of government TV called the event “very strange.” Here is a report of Vesti news TV channel (one of the most official TV channels owned by the government, in Russian):
Of course, when the scandal broke out, MHA hurried to deny any references to senior people in their maneuvers’ script, the use of water cannons and the very fact of maneuvers; state TV channels removed their news reports from their Web sites. Fortunately, somebody saved the clips and uploaded them to YouTube.
A briefing was held last Thursday in the US Helsinki Commission (officially named the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe) dedicated to the use of microblogs and new media to promote freedom in authoritarian countries. A lot was said about Russia, and I’ll just cite Daniel Calingaert of Freedom House, who referred to a few recent examples of how we utilized Web 2.0 to spread information about electoral fraud:
Citizens in the former Soviet Union have used new media to assert their rights and to challenge abuses of power. In Russia, for example, the Internet was the primary means for drawing attention to fraud in this month’s local elections. When observers in the Moscow district of Zyablikovo found a group of individuals hired to vote for United Russia multiple times, they used Twitter and Livejournal blogs to spread the news immediately and to publish photos of the violators.
A member of that district’s electoral commission, [Andrey Klyukin] gave an online interview to describe in detail the plan behind this fraud. The interview was widely viewed on Russian YouTube and covered by several traditional media outlets. Another group of observers published video footage of a polling-station chairman in the city of Azov as he tried to mix fraudulent ballots which had already been filled in for United Russia with legitimate ballots. This video became a hit in the Russian blogosphere and prompted a criminal investigation of the polling-station chairman. Digital media spread the news of voter fraud in Russia’s local elections and contributed to a real-world response. The news triggered a public demonstration on October 12th
in Moscow’s Pushkin Square and prompted all three opposition parties to walk out of Parliament in protest.
Authoratian governments are aware of the threat that new media pose to them and they use a wide arsenal to silent online criticism, Mr Calingaert continues:
Authoritarian regimes in the former Soviet republics and elsewhere continue to repress their citizens, and this repression extends to digital media. In Russia, for example, Internet freedom has declined significantly in recent years, as bloggers have become subject to hacker attacks, legal prosecution and physical violence. Although there is no technical filtering in Russia, officials often make phone calls to pressure web hosts or Internet service providers to remove unwanted content. The director of a leading hosting company, Master Host, admitted that his company gets about 100 requests a day to remove content from inconvenient – so-called “inconvenient” Web sites.
Kommersant reports (in Russian) on Michael McFaul’s (Obama’s chief advisor on Russia) talks with Vladislav Surkov (the architect of Russia’s “managed democracy”):
As Michael McFaul told Kommersant after the talks, he brought home to Vladislav Surkov Washington’s new approach to the issue of human rights in Russia: “We came to a conclusion that we need a reset in this respect too and we should give up the old approach that had been troubling Russian-American partnership.” Mr McFaul made it clear that the USA are not going to teach Russia democracy any more and cause irritation in Moscow; they are going to focus on practical work with NGOs instead.
Michael McFaul is known for his sober and clear understanding of the situation in Russia. He barely has any illusions on what the Russian political system is like. But he does really sound like many Realpolitik-infected diplomats, who call the West to turn a blind eye on Russia slipping down to dictatorship.
Is Obama’s administration really going to give the issue of human rights the last priority or how should we understand this “new approach”?
PS: Meanwhile, United Russia has faked about 1,000,000 votes (40% of official turnout) at Moscow municipal elections, according to statistical research (in Russia). Those who went to protest peacefully this fraud were arrested violently Monday night by riot police (including myself). Now we shouldn’t expect that this issue will be raised by US diplomats; otherwise it would definitely trouble the Washington-Moscow partnership.
An investment fund called Hermitage Capital Management accuse Russian police and tax authorities of participating in a fraud, which costed Russian taxpayers $230,000,000. According to their film, an organized group of high-ranking officers bribed judges and lawyers, faked documents and criminal cases to steal more than one billion US dollars from the fund (which didn’t work) and 4 billion roubles from the Russian budget. Trying to conceal the crime, corrupted officers fabricated cases against HCM itself. Yesterday, HCM CEO William Browder and legal adviser Sergey Magnitskiy were charged with tax evasion.
I don’t know the details of the case, so I can’t judge what is true in this movie and what is not. But the story is, unfortunately, very lifelike. No doubt, this could really happen in Russia.